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Ottoman weapons: Wikis


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Turkish guns, 1750-1800. Musée de l'Armée, Paris.

The Military of the Ottoman Empire used a variety of weapons in their conquests throughout the centuries. The armoury in Topkapı Palace has a large collection of which it shows select items.



Ottoman armour and helmets (kept in Topkapı Palace)

Ottoman armour (Turkish: zırh) of the 15th and 16th centuries was made with interlocking rings of flattened metal and was reinforced at the front, underarms and back with rectangular steel plates, similar to the Coat of Ten Thousand Nails. This had several advantages. It permitted a wider range of motion and its open structure allowed air to circulate freely, keeping the wearer cooler. Additional garments could be worn over the mail for protection against the weather. During the Middle Ages the Turks invented an advanced helmet called the Zischagge which was later worn by German soldiers in the 30 years war and Roundhead Ironside cavalry during the English Civil War.


Swords and sheathes

A sword (kılıç) consists of a blade which is usually grooved, a hilt, guard and scabbard. Its basic form is illustrated by the sword of Sultan Mehmed II, with its slightly curved blade that thickens at the back. During the reigns of Sultan Bayezid and Suleiman I, the Turkish sword attained its classic form, becoming shorter, lighter and straighter. These changes made it a more effective and efficient weapon. Swords are usually embellished with inscriptions and motifs typical of the period.


Yataghans from the 17th-19th century CE

The Yataghan (yatağan) makes its appearance in the second half of the 16th century, and is an infantry weapon in which the hilt is generally made of bone or ivory and the pommel is flared. Its short, slightly curved blade is sharp on one edge and comes to a fine point. This form continues unchanged until the end of the 19th century. The yataghan was widely used in both the Ottoman army and navy.


The Ottoman cavalry sabre varied in its degree of curvature from bow-shape to almost semi-circular in the attempt to produce a design more useful in the mounted close combat preferred by the Turkish and Mamluke troops. It was always kept extremely sharp.


Bows and arrows and maces

There are three kinds of bows : war (tirkeş), target (puta), and long-range (menzil) bows. All three types were made of four materials: wood, horn, tendon and adhesive. A grip (kabza) is located at the centre of each bow. They are generally decorated in lacquer technique.


The shaft of arrows was made of pine and the head of iron, brass, or bone. At the end of the arrow are feathers to stabilise flight and knoted nock (gez) to hold the arrow firmly against the bowstring.


The typical helmet (miğfer) in the 15th and early 16th centuries was conical in form, swelling gently from the base and curves as it tapers to its apex. At the front it had a visor and nasal and along the sides and back a neck guard of chain mail. In the 16th century under Mamluk influence it assumed a more conical and smaller form. This shape continued throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.


Tower flintlocks from the 17th-18th centuries CE

Although the Ottoman army began using muskets (tüfek) in the 16th century, the earliest examples of Turkish manufacture date to the early 17th century. Toward the end of the century these muskets, with their simple matchlock firing mechanisms were replaced with flintlock muskets. These continued to be used until the end of the 19th century, undergoing minor changes as a result of Western influence in developing rifles.


Ottoman artillery was famous for the size of its cannon, and their number, from the highly mobile antipersonnel Abus gun to the massive Great Turkish Bombard. Although primarily used in sieges, as late as 1809 massive stone-firing guns were used with some effect against British ships during the Dardanelles Operation, throwing 800-pound marble cannon balls which were able to sheer off a main mast of a ship of the line.


  • David Nicolle. Armies of the Ottoman Empire 1775-1820 (Men-At-Arms, No 314). Osprey Publishing (1998). ISBN 1855326973
  • Gábor Ágoston. Guns for the Sultan: Military Power and the Weapons Industry in the Ottoman Empire. Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization. Cambridge University Press (2005). ISBN 0521843138
  • DK Publishing. Weapon: A Visual History of Arms and Armor. DK ADULT (2006). ISBN 0756622107
  • Judith Herbst. The History Of Weapons (Major Inventions Through History). Twenty-First Century Books (CT) (2005) ISBN 0822538059
  • Fanny Davis. Palace of Topkapi in Istanbul. 1970. ASIN B000NP64Z2


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